A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way


Announcing The I'm A F*#&ing Badass Experiment

The thing I hate the most about the past four years of my job history is the way it's eroded my confidence. Being in the wrong line of work will do that to a person. All I can see are the things I'm *not* good at: public speaking, talking on the phone, dealing with upset customers, stroking the egos of cranky managers. My job doesn't provide much opportunity for me to play to my strengths, and as a result, I've forgotten just how skilled, educated, and experienced I am. I'm convinced this lack of confidence has contributed to my recent feelings of depression and low self-worth.

But then this past weekend happened: I ran in a long-distance relay and was reminded that actually, I'm pretty fucking awesome, and I deserve to feel that way every single day. We all do.

Ready to conquer 18 miles
A bit of background: As many of you know, I'm passionate about running. But I'm not a natural runner. I didn't participate in track or cross country in grade school; I was the kid who'd look for every excuse to miss the one-mile run in gym class each semester. I began a jogging regimen only because it's something my partner was into when I first met him 20 years ago. On our first outing together, I huffed and puffed down one city block before I called it a day. A year later I finished a marathon. I've been a runner ever since.

I've improved my times over the years but never beyond middle of the pack. At my Tuesday night track club, I amble along in the drafts created by Olympic-level speedsters as they fly by at less than five minutes a mile, all taut muscle and perfect form. The thing is, though, I really don't care about the disparity in our performances. I'm happy for their talent. I'm happy for me, too. I love how running makes me feel. I see my limitations, I fully accept them, and I do my best with what I've got.

And what I've got is perfectly fine, something I was reminded of as I was running 18 miles through the desert last Saturday. I'd tapered well and felt fresh as I headed to the aid station at the start of my leg. During the run, my nutrition/hydration plan was on point. The trail was rocky, but I didn't fall once. I implemented my crush-the-downhills-speedwalk-the-uphills strategy. And by the time I reached my end point, I was ahead of schedule. Fast? No. But I delivered for my team.

It helped to be amongst others in the running community, where every person is treated as an absolute hero regardless of their gender, race, age, weight, pace, whatever. You run past someone, you tell them how outstanding they are, and they reciprocate. You get to an aid station, they tell you how amazing you are, and you thank them profusely for taking time out of their day to help host the event.

The ethos in the running community is just... inspiring. It's about unconditional acceptance and appreciation. It's about valuing people simply for being present, for participating, for existing.  Experiencing it again at Saturday's race was such a contrast to the messages I've been receiving in my work over the past few years and particularly over the past two months.

Basking in that spirit made me realize that I deserve better in my job. I cannot continue to work for a manager who yells at me and a company with policies that leave me feeling like a pile of shit at the end of each day. Work shouldn't make us feel that way. It's emotionally draining. It's bad for our health.

Which is why I'm determined to pivot, make a career shift, and find a way out of this employment rut. It's going to happen, but I know I need to stick it out for at least a few more months at my current job so that we can save some money and make a clear plan.


In the meantime, I don't want to feel powerless. I don't want to keep crying at my desk every morning. I don't want to feel like a worthless pile of slime on my office floor. For this job to be sustainable until next summer, I need to find a way to regain my confidence, or at least some of it. And I can't wait for my company or my boss to help me out in that respect, because that's never going to happen.

So I've decided to take on a little life experiment. I'm calling it my I'm A Fucking Badass Experiment, and here's how it's going to work: every week, I'm going to try out a strategy that I hope will help me feel better and more confident about myself. Whatever that strategy is, I'll implement it each and every day during that given week. At the end of the week, I'll report back: was it effective? Did it flop? Would I recommend it to others? (On the docket for Week 1: Power Posing!) 

Thanks to the messages we receive from the world around us, oftentimes especially from our work, we get brainwashed into thinking that we deserve less than we do. But as one of my running heroes, Sally McRae, has said, we don't need a why to matter. We matter because we exist. We should feel confident simply because we are here, doing the best we can every single day. And that's what I want for myself.

(Well, that and a better job.)

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Five Frugal Habit Changes That Have Helped Us Meet Our Financial Goals

Back in the day - before that transformative moment in April 2017 when we finally decided to get our financial act together - my family and I were impulsive spenders.

Fresh piece of furniture or some art for the walls?

Buy it.

Last-minute trip to a fancy hotel?

Do it.

Brand-new hardcover by favorite author?

Need it.

Cool new restaurant with $14 cocktails?


This past weekend, which consisted largely of wallet-friendly activities like making homemade meals, watching Netflix movies on the couch, tackling the laundry, and of course napping, I found myself reflecting on all that's changed in the last 1.5 years. Developing and especially maintaining new habits has always been challenging for my partner and me... especially me.

And yet somehow we've done it. We've adopted habits that have made us more aware of our spending and more frugal overall.

So what habits have stuck?

We track our spending religiously

For the past 18 months, I've kept an Excel spreadsheet that documents every single thing we've bought and every single bill we've paid. Automated tools like Mint and YNAB would do this for me, but I'm convinced that manually tracking our expenses plays a big role in our success so far. It forces to take a hard look at our choices on a regular basis. Does that mean we always hit our budget? Haaaaa. Nope. But we're at least aware of our biggest opportunities for improvement (grocery bill, I'm looking at you). They're always staring us in the face, and as a result, we never veer too far off the rails.

Forget bookstores: we're all about the library now

Slightly embarrassing admission: the library used to gross me out. I'd find myself obsessing about the number of other people who'd touched the books and the abundance of invisible germs crawling all over the covers. Then I'd head over to Barnes and Noble and buy my own copy of whatever shiny, fingerprint-free tome I wanted to read. At up to $24 a pop a few times a month, these literary purchases became expensive.

Now that our finances are on firmer footing, the library seems infinitely more appealing. Any slight aversion I may still have to book germs pales in the face of the gleeful reality that I can check out pretty much as many books as I want for free. Doesn't cost a thing! It's brilliant! I'm completely converted.

We go out to eat less (and use coupons or Swagbucks to help offset the cost when we do)

I so admire those of you who save money by never going out to eat. It makes sense: restaurants are expensive, especially when you factor in tips (and I believe in tipping well). Eating every meal at home saves a bundle.

For our family, though, this hasn't worked. We have some of our best conversations when we're sharing a meal prepared by someone else in a setting other than our kitchen. We just really enjoy going out to eat as a family, and we used to do so a couple of times a week.

We compromise by a) going out to eat less often and b) offsetting our costs with giftcards that we earn through Swagbucks. Granted, this means that Olive Garden and Dominoes feature heavily in our dining rotation (my kid loves Olive Garden; I hate it), but it makes us feel like we're not depriving ourselves.

Once or twice a month, we'll splurge at one of our favorite non-chain restaurants in town. That's always a massive treat and we never feel guilty about it because we know we've made improvements in this portion of our budget overall.

We curtailed traveling (for now, anyway) 

Before we started our debt reduction journey, our family traveled on a regular basis, both in-country and internationally, by car, by train, by plane. But traveling is so expensive that we've put the brakes on it for now. Our big excursion this year was a four-day road trip to Colorado; outside of that, we've stuck very close to home and watched as our friends took delightful-looking vacations to France, South America, New Zealand, and Iceland.

I can't see adopting this as a long-term habit because I think travel is enormously beneficial and educational. I do miss it. I want my son to see more of the world. But for now, it's a sacrifice we feel we need to make in order to meet our financial goals.

We spend almost nothing on home decor

A few months ago, a friend came over for dinner, glanced around at our sparse furnishings, and asked if we'd joined the minimalist movement. We explained that no, we just don't want to invest hundreds of dollars in home goods.

I'd be lying if I told you that I don't care how my house looks. I get FOMO every time I watch Property Brothers and Fixer Upper. Do I sometimes wish our home were more fashionable? More furnished? Sure.

But do I want to spend $800 on a new sofa? Or $150 on a piece of wall art? No. (I suppose I could do the next logical thing and see what I can find at thrift stores, but I'm a bit lazy.)

So we go with what we've currently got: worn second-hand seating, an abstract painting that a friend made and gifted to us, a faded tablecloth that my mom gave me 10 years ago, some photographs in inexpensive frames, a Target lamp, a small table, and a few plants. The place does look a bit empty, but I'm not willing to devote our paychecks to filling it up. I can live with this habit.

Focus on habits that are sustainable for you

I think it's important to focus on developing habits that you have the will to maintain. For example, our grocery bill is a bit of a disaster. We could develop better habits there, but frankly, we're not ready to. We've tried and failed multiple times because we're not committed enough. So we put our focus and efforts elsewhere, knowing that habits are hard to create and we've made some big strides in other areas.

What habits have you changed in order to pursue your financial goals?

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Stuck: A Job Post

This isn't going to be a particularly positive or eloquent post, but I'll forge ahead with it anyway because I want to share what's going on in 76K land. I haven't been writing because I've been feeling down. When I'm down, words elude me. But let me try to get something out.

Please note: this is me putting my thoughts on a page and not judging myself in the process. I don't feel the need to censor myself or make myself sound cheerier than I am. Yes, I know other people are experiencing much worse things, but that doesn't mean I can't share my own frustrations. If this bothers you, you don't need to comment on it. 

For the past two months or so, I've been feeling increasingly discouraged and depressed about my job. The reasons are fairly common. Look up any "I hate my corporate job" Reddit thread and you'll get the drift. Clearly I'm not alone in this.

My current strategy is to keep plodding on and doing my best while at the same time looking for another gig. I've been on the hunt for about two months. Despite all the chatter about this being the best job market in years!, I'm not seeing evidence of this supposed job hunter's paradise in my neck of the woods. Or at least, I'm not seeing any jobs that a) I'm qualified for, b) offer a living wage, and c) don't involve sales. But I'm networking and keeping my eyes peeled. 

I feel like I made a handful of mistakes with respect to my career. One, I chose an area of study/expertise that I assumed would offer plenty of job opportunities... but unless I want to move to Texas or Louisiana (I don't), that's not actually the case. I should have done my research. (I didn't.)

Two, when I left my academic job two years ago, I didn't give myself enough time and space to figure out what I wanted to do instead. I just jumped into the first available opportunity for which I was qualified, an opportunity that happened to be another iteration of the job I'd left. I've done that twice now: bounced from one not-right-for-me job straight into the next not-right-for-me job. Why? I guess because I needed the paycheck and I was following the path of least resistance.

As a result, I've backed myself into a corner in my career. My resume gives the distinct impression that I have a deep, vested interest in an area that I actually couldn't care less about. 

I do see the pros of my job: the paycheck, the benefits, the chance to finally pay down my debt. But if you've never experienced it for yourself, it's hard to describe how mentally and emotionally taxing it is to feel as though you are throwing away 40+ hours of your life every week. If you've been there, you know what I mean. It's exhausting. It shouldn't be that way.

In the short-term, I'll keep taking it day by day, looking for other opportunities, re-tooling my resume, doing things I enjoy outside of work, and paying off my student loan so that this frustration is ultimately worthwhile. 

I'm also developing something of a long-term exit strategy. Although our finances dictate that I can't up and quit my job right now, I'm giving serious thought to taking a career break next year. My tentative plan is to pay off my student loan in February (six months from now!) and then save as much money as possible by the end of the summer. That should give us enough of a financial cushion so that I can take six to eight months off.

It wouldn't be a vacation. I'd use that time to learn some new skills (specific areas TBD), brush up on some old ones, and give some deep thought to what it is I want to do. It would be a risk, but I think it would be a worthwhile risk. I can't keep doing what I'm doing and expect anything to change. 

My challenge: to stick it out until then.
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September 2018 Budget: Sports Fees and Credit Card Gripes

It's been a while since I've written a budget postI didn't share our August budget because it was so outside the norm for us, what with yearly bonuses and shuffling money into savings. Much of this summer was not a reflection of our day-to-day financial reality.

But now we're back to business as usual, so I figured I'd share our plans for September. The trick this month will be to rein it in: we won't have much extra cash to play with. I've tried to be realistic, though, knowing that we tend to overspend when we feel too restricted.

A few highlights and items of note:

(1) Southwest credit card annual fee: AAAARGH. GRRRRR. Note to all: the Southwest credit card is NOT worth the $99 annual fee. It just isn't. Aside from the 6,000 anniversary points, this card has little to offer, and 2019 will be my last year as a cardholder. New plan: use up my miles by middle of next summer and then cancel. I've even set up a reminder on my phone.

(2) Running gear: For months, I've put off buying some much-needed running gear. I'm reluctant to spend the money, but in a few weeks I'm running a long leg in a 100-mile relay - at night. I'm nervous (petrified is more like it) about trying to find my way along a single-track trail in the cold and dark. So today I finally made some purchases that will hopefully keep me comfortable and put my mind more at ease (links so that other runners can check these out and tell me what they think): a Petzl Tikkina headlamp, an UltrAspire clip-on light for my running vest, two flexible HydraPak UltraFlask water bottles that I can fold up when not in use, a 2-liter Platypus, and a hat. I bought them from REI because I like the membership dividend and the excellent customer service.

(3) Soccer fee: While playing for the city soccer league this summer, the Kiddo developed a passion for the sport and now wants to join his school club this fall. I've never seen him this invested in something other than video games. He bought a new soccer ball and some cones with a gift card he received from the grandparents, and recently he's at the park almost every day doing wind sprints and practicing drills. The school club is a bit expensive, but if he's willing to invest his time and energy into this hobby, we're willing to invest some money and give him all the support we can provide.

(4) Savings OR loans: We've allocated $1300 for one or the other. We're still trying to decide if we want to save a little more or start demolishing my student loan, which could be gone by February if we're willing to throw most of our disposable income at it. *At the moment* I'm feeling very anti-loan and would like to burn it to the ground, but that could change tomorrow. So we'll just wait until the middle-of-the-month paycheck shows up and make our final decision then.

September 2018 Budget:

Rent (including water, sewer, trash)
Student Loan #1
Student Loan #2
Thousand Trails
Very Expensive Feline
School Supplies
SW Card Fee
Running Gear
Soccer Fee
Savings OR Loans
Total Planned Expenses

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